With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

THE BERLIN FILE becomes available on Region 1 DVD this Wednesday

CJ Entertainment
The Berlin File
Written and directed by RYOO Seung-wan
Starring Ha Jung-woo, HAN Suk-kyu,
RYU Seung-beom, and Gianna JUN
South Korea, 2013, 120 minutes

Get ready for an action-packed espionage thriller in which the clandestine operatives of the two parts of Korea, the only remaining country of those that were divided in the immediate post-WWII period, go at one another in the formerly divided city that was the focus of so much Cold War intrigue. The Berlin File arrives on Region 1 DVD on Wednesday, December 24th.

The Berlin File set attendance records in South Korea after it opened at the end of January, 2013. South Korean filmmakers BONG Joon-ho (The Host), CHOI Dong-hoon (The Thieves) and LEE Joon-ik (The King and the Clown) have each praised it and for good reason. It's top-drawer entertainment.

North Korean "ghost" agent PYO Jong-seong (HA Jung-woo)

The film, which was written and directed by RYOO Seung-wan (The City of Violence), centers around PYO Jong-seong, a North Korean operative played by HA Jung-woo (The Yellow Sea, Nameless Gangster). Currently stationed in Berlin, where his wife is a translator for the North Korean ambassador, PYO is called the hero of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. However, he is not known to the intelligence agencies of South Korea (a.k.a. the Republic of Korea), the United States, Britain, or Israel.

Such an agent is termed a “ghost” and that’s what South Korean intelligence agent JUNG Jin-soo (HAN Suk-kyu, Green Fish, Shiri, A Bloody Aria) calls him when he’s seen on surveillance cameras at an arms deal taking place in a hotel room. PYO is arranging, via a Russian broker, for the sale of North Korean weapons to a member of an Arab “anti-imperialist” terrorist organization. When a third party interrupts the meeting, all hell breaks loose, and JUNG’s quest to capture the resourceful and elusive PYO begins.

RYUN Jung-hee (Gianna JUN) is PYO's wife and a translater for the North Korean ambassador

The story is further complicated because PYO’s wife, RYUN Jung-hee (played by Gianna JUN, a.k.a. JUN Ji-hyun, Blood: The Last Vampire, My Sassy Girl, Il Mare), is suspected of treason. DONG Myung-soo, a vicious North Korean agent and son of a powerful political figure, has been sent to deal with the situation. He gives PYO, who begins to have some of his own suspicions about his wife, forty-eight hours to clear her. RYOO Seung-bum (Doomsday Book, Foxy Festival, No Mercy), brother of director RYOO Seung-wan, plays the role of DONG with truly relentless, sinister menace. (I have no idea why their family name is spelled RYOO for one RYU for the other, but that's how they appear in publicity materials and at IMDb.)

South Korean intelligence agent JUNG Jin-soo (HAN Suk-kyu)

To say that the film has a dense story line is almost an understatement. In addition to the North and South Korean intelligence and diplomatic factions and the Arab terrorists, there is involvement of the U.S. CIA and Israel’s Mossad, suspicions of defection, and a $4 billion fund supposedly squirreled away by North Korea’s supreme leader KIM Jong-il before he died. Individuals are often not what they seem to be and are rarely to be trusted. In the world of espionage, after all, duplicity is the name of the game. Still, it’s easy enough to follow along and enjoy the show.

Dong Myung-soo (RYU Seung-bum, brother of director RYOO Seung-wan) is a ruthless North Korean operative

Terrific, stylish, high-adrenaline action scenes frequently punctuate the film. Great credit must be given to JUNG Doo-hong, the film’s action coordinator, as well as to the actors and stunt personnel involved.

The audio and video on the DVD are fine. There's absolutely nothing to find fault with nor to complain about, although I must confess that I'd love it if CJ Entertainment would start making their films available on Blu-ray discs as well as DVDs (like Well Go USA does) or as Blu-ray/DVD combo editions (as The Criterion Collection is now doing).

There are four language track options: the original Korean soundtrack with English subtitles or an English dubbed version, both available as either 5.1 or 2.0.

The Berlin File disc extras include "The Making of The Berlin File," a much better than average behind-the-scenes featurette that clocks in about 83 minutes. There are some very interesting bits of information that come to light, especially from action coordinator JUNG and from a woman formerly from North Korea who advised the cast on the various accents they employed and which were based on the social status of their characters.  Some deleted scenes are also included.

The Berlin File is taut, well-paced, action-packed thriller with an outstanding all-star cast. ACF Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; highly recommended.

Some other reviews of the film, not the DVD per se, can be found at:
Film Business Asia
Screen Daily